How to repair scratches on your car

There’s nothing worse than finding someone’s left a great big scratch in your car’s pristine paintwork. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to return your pride and joy to showroom condition.

More more information, read our guides explaining car servicing and warranties and our in-depth article all about insurance excess.

What causes scratches?

Scratches can be caused by anything from flying stones kicked up by other cars to poorly judged manoeuvres in supermarket car parks. No matter how carefully you drive, chances are your car will suffer at least a few chips and scrapes over its lifetime.

Not only are large scratches and dents unsightly, but they could affect the resale value of your car. Because paint usually protects the metal underneath, serious scrapes could leave your car vulnerable to rust and corrosion if left unchecked.

How do I repair minor scratches?

Before you attempt any repair, make sure the area is clean and completely dry. Many minor scratches can be sorted with nothing more than a common automotive cutting compound, such as T-Cut. These liquids contain tiny abrasive particles that help strip away a thin layer of scuffed paint to reveal a shiny new surface beneath.

Using an old rag, apply a small amount of compound to the scratch and rub until it fades away. This technique can also help remove stains or discoloured patches from your car’s paint, too.

If a scratch is deep enough, you’ll need to use a touch-up kit – most commonly offered as a small paint pen with an abrasive tip. Use the abrasive pad to roughen the scratched surface, brush off any dust or paint flecks then paint over the bare metal with the coloured tip.

To make sure you’re buying the correct colour, match the kit to your car’s individual paint code. If you can’t find it in the owner’s manual, many online services can help source your code using the car’s registration number.

A layer of protective polish will help the repainted area blend into the car’s bodywork and should prevent any further chipping.

How do I repair more serious scratches?

More serious scratches are best left to the professionals. If you’re determined to tackle it yourself, however, you’ll need to spend more time preparing the damaged area. Wash your car and leave it to dry. Come back later and check the scratch carefully for loose paint. Remove any lifted flakes and rub it down with fine sandpaper to remove any rough edges.

If the scratch has revealed a large amount of bare metal, you’ll need to apply a layer of protective primer. This will help shield the metal from water to prevent it from rusting as well as providing a smooth surface for paint to be applied to. It’s important to mask off any lights or trim pieces first using tape to prevent overspray.

It’s best to work with light coats of primer, carefully inspecting and sanding after each application. Getting a little trigger happy with the spray can may cause runs that’ll ruin the look of your car.

Once you’re confident the primed surface is smooth and even, you’re ready to apply what’s called a colour coat. Using a spray can – colour matched to your car’s paint code – gently apply a few light coats to cover the primer and surrounding area.

Once you’re happy the scratch has been covered, you’ll need to apply a top coat, sometimes called a clear coat. This is a transparent layer that adds a glossy finish to your efforts and protects the paint from fading in direct sunlight. You can spray this on a little more liberally than either colour or primer coats, but be careful to avoid runs.

If your car’s bodywork is dented, it may require pulling or filling before it can be repainted. This is particularly tricky and is best left to the experts. Our very own Mat Watson found out just how difficult fixing a large dent can be when he took his Porsche 911 to be repaired.

Will my car need repainting?

This depends on the size and difficulty of the scratch repair. Some scrapes, especially smaller ones, can be repaired easily by hand but others could need to be looked at by professionals. Your car shouldn’t need to be completely repainted unless some drastic damage has been done, however.

Can someone repair it for me?

If you are not confident in repairing a scratch yourself, there’s a wide range of specialist car paint and repair shops around who’ll be happy to help. Even general neighbourhood garages can often repair smaller scratches if you’d rather leave it to someone else.

A range of companies can even come to your house to fix a scratch. These services will probably prove significantly more expensive than tackling it yourself, however.

Time for a new car instead?

If your car is simply too scratched to repair, it might be time for a brand new model. Check out the latest carwow offers on our new car deals page or use our PCP calculator to get a better idea of how much a new car could cost per month. Not sure what to buy? Let our car chooser tool help narrow down your search.